HAMMOND — A father says his children were harassed because they failed to take part in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and the “Star Spangled Banner” at Gavit High School. He has filed a discrimination complaint with the Indiana Civil Rights Commission.
Yusef Ali El, a Moorish-American Moslem, said the Pledge and anthem are contrary to his children’s religion.
“The heart of my complaint is harassment of my children for not reciting the Pledge and national anthem,” El said Monday. “They were put out of band class.”
An official with the School City of Hammond denied the charge.
“The School District does not feel there is any basis for the complaint,” said Robyn Payne, director of curriculum, instruction and student services. “They were not removed for failure to recite the Pledge. Their removal was a result of failure to follow school rules.”
Payne said the district routinely allows children to opt out of reciting the Pledge or national anthem if their parents send a letter to the district.
Greg Ellis of the Civil Rights Commission said it will make a ruling on the case next month.
“It’s still in the investigation stage,” Ellis said. He said if there are enough facts to support the case, a lawsuit would be filed by the commission. If there’s no probable cause established, the family has a right to appeal the finding.
The complaint was filed Jan. 21. The commission has 180 days to investigate, Ellis said.
As part of the investigation, the commission subpoenaed the class rosters of a social studies and band class, taught by Kenneth Petyo and John Trimmel, respectively. The names of students, addresses and phone numbers were sought. Parents were sent letters from the district saying it would comply with the subpoenas unless parents notified them.
El said a representative from the Indiana Civil Liberties Union declined to take the case.
El said his daughter, Quenna, 18, was removed from an Oct. 3, 2003, senior assembly by Petyo because she did not stand and recite the Pledge. She was sent to the principal’s office, according to El. El said he was told by Principal Charles Hall that his children would be removed from any school activity for refusing to stand and say the Pledge.
On the same day, El said, Quenna, a 2004 graduate, was reprimanded by Trimmel for not playing the “Star Spangled Banner” in band class.
Soon after, El contacted Payne, who told him to send her a written statement explaining his position.
El wrote Payne the letter on Oct. 7. In it, he wrote:
“Participating in the Pledge of Allegiance or the ’Star Spangled Banner’ ceremonies would not be honoring the creeds and principles of our forefathers. As Moorish Moslems, our allegiance is to ALLAH … It will be a clear and hypocritical rejection of our Islamic faith and our Moorish nationality if we pledge allegiance to a flag out of fear that if we do not, the very ‘liberty and justice for all’ which is purported in the Pledge shall be denied to us.”
School officials maintain El’s children were disciplined for fighting and failing to follow rules, not for their religious beliefs.
El said one of the fights was triggered by a student who uttered a racial slur at his son.